The story of vodka is one that’s closely tied to cultural identity for several countries, but where did it originate, and how did it evolve over time? We’ll talk a bit about how vodka is made, where it came from, and how it’s expanded to a global market.
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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Ok, honey, I'm at least that new car today, but first hear some flashcards ago, releasing vocabulary quiz me. You do not need to know how these you don't hear. Look. This is the right of people to carry one and two
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My vocabulary is ok, but my grandma is pretty train Ricky, so the
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yes and we'd love for you to welcome to stuff you missed in history class from Housetop works, dotcom, hello and one under the contacts I probably fry and I'm Tracy will. Then I'm excited themselves there.
because today we're gonna talk about my spirit of choice,
As you told me, what you are researching I bought this is going to be Holly's, favorite episode ever
Sort of agreement would he give it some of the bleak step thick us with Argos. So it's not all fun and games. I certainly enjoy cocktail, but obviously we are not advocating over imbibing drink responsibly. We just hunting by the history of this drink and the story of vodka is one that is really closely tied to cultural identity for several countries
but we're gonna examined where it originated in how it evolved over time and how those identity sort of formed. I bet when I say vodka and country people automatically make a connection we'll talk about. Why that's that
These were gonna talk a little bit also about how vodka is made and then we'll get into that part about where it came from and how it has expanded to become really a global market focusing on those countries where it remains and has become most popular. And then we have to talk about some of the problematic aspects of August place in the world, but I pray
I will end in a fairly fun place. Vodka is little unusual in that it can be made from a lot of different things while still being considered vodka, which isn't so much the case with a number of other spirits. There are, of course, a lot of opinions and disagreements about just how far afield, you can go in selecting the base ingredient, whilst still calling the resulting spirit vodka. Yet this some heated debate
discovered by her. He supports it requires a sugar or starch element to begin with, so most popular in Russia in Poland, as well as other countries. Kind of in the northern belt are greens, potatoes or sugar beet molasses. As this,
ingredient. There is actually an area, that's colloquially called the vodka belt which stretches from Sweden to Poland and that produces the majority of the vodka that is consumed in the European Union,
other places where there is a greater variability, including using things like corn and fruit, and whether those things should be considered. Vodka was the matter of debate for some time. Europe
in parliament ruled on the matter in two thousand and seven
A wider range of options for distillers all falling under this vodka umbrella, defining vodka as a spirit, drink produced from ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin,
you can even if you're feeling very, very ambitious and want to do some some juggling and baby sitting. You could even start a vodka from just sugar, although it's not really the recommended for general making is my understanding. I have never despair,
vodka myself, so I'm going by what I have read that ruling that we just talked about was ends
basically not entirely popular for vodka purists. It really signalled a degradation to the Spirit and the finnish politician Alexander stood made the case that vodka should be more specifically define. He said at that time quote: we have made vodka out of potato and grain,
over five hundred years when we became EU members in ninety ninety five, we were told that vodka would have a tight definition just like rum, just like whisky, just like grandpa. We don't want vodka to be some kind of alcoholic wastebasket
I really like the idea that lake it sounds almost like bear. Their becoming part of the EU was in some way
contingent on the definition of vodka. Yes,
evidently part of what they were they were agreed to. Is the vodka would have this, this rigorous, fairly rigorous standards applied? Do it at that
really pan out now the reason that the rules of what could be used to produce vodka were relaxed was the vodka was already being made from a variety of ingredients distilleries all over Europe and excluding the producers that used alternates to grain and potatoes could have led to a trade war. Countries outside of the EU were making vodka out of all
things and so had the ruling had taken a more strict stance that would have opened a huge can of worms in terms of the global spirits market.
Yeah. So if you would imagine that trying to put this in a sort of real terms, instead of just theoretical, if you
went in to your local liquor store today to buy vodka, and you see all of the offerings and then something like this had happened, and some people in the world said no.
that thing you ve been buying as vodka for x number of years is no longer. Vodka like it would just be a little bit of chaos in terms of how manufacturers labelled things, I imagine there would be pushed back, because people wouldn't want to change the identities of the products they had been making, for.
Time, it really just would have been an absolute chaotic mess. Incidental
in the? U S: vodka is legally defined in
ultra broad terms, as quote neutral spirits, so distilled or so treated after distillation, with charcoal or other materials as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste or cut
That is pretty its broad it. Ambulances yeah, regardless of whether the primary ingredient is an old school traditional. Take
or one that falls under the wider rules after the fermenting ingredient is selected, it goes through fermentation. The base material is crushed blended with water and heated, which turns the start into sugar. That result is combined with east and then the flu,
it is distilled from the combined mixture, so alcohol of course boils more quickly than water, so that alcohol component in that mixture, vaporize, is more quickly than the water in the mix and that vapor is captured, excluding the very first and last vapours of the batch and next. That labour is then condensed into a very potent alcohol and then that alcohol is combined again with water to produce the final product. Vodka, that's the very basic process. If you
pleaded those steps you have what could technically be called vodka, but it can be, and usually is, further refined and process to alter the taste and the purity filtering it through charcoal lava.
in in or a number of other substances or performing multiple distillation will make this spirit cleaner and purer, and also remove virtually all of the texts.
yeah. If you go on an online spelunkers expedition to see what people have used to filter vodka, you will find everything from like diamond dust, two pieces of cloth and for sound that becomes part
like their brand identity or, if they're doing lake small batch artisanal staff. It's part of their thing that their their creating new ways to do it and, of course, flavoured vodka, is very
popular and the flavor has to be added. After all of these other steps, this is often done at the production level, but there also plenty of consumers who, like to add their own flavour, infusions too, plain vodka for custom flavour. So I'm sure, if you have friends who drink you know somebody who has been like iron
is my vodka, with jolly ranchers or with apples or with any number of other I've had friends. You have done it with jelly beans. The result was delicious. It just depends on what you like
there are consumers than connoisseurs who desire of vodka that still tastes at least a little bit like its original ingredients. Rather than having a post distillation added flavour, some artisanal vodka producers use small copper, moonshine stills, instead of the skills that are used in larger protection set ups, because the resulting spirit retains some of those component tastes. Yet if you want your vodka meditates lake
wake the wheat or the potato or whatever was use initially, then the that is probably a better way to achieve it. Quality standards for vodka are actually a really tricky top
because there aren't any that are universally recognised. Some countries, such as Poland, define quality by purity. There are other municipalities that categorize simply by alcohol content, like what percentage of the resulting spirit is alcohol, others also marketing in the mix playing apart with some distillers touting the purity
The water that they use is the ultimate determinant of quality, we're about to dive into we're all of this vodka production started, or at least where people think it started the first we will take a break to hear from one of the sponsors that keeps the show going.
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while we identity of vodka today is one of an intoxicate. Initially, width believed that it was developed for medicinal use, but its exact point of origin is lost time and is consequently argued by various countries wishing to claim ownership of the
most popular spirit, Russia and poland- remain locked in their ongoing argument over the matter. Both using language is evidence. So,
Russian word for water is voter with a v the polish word for,
Water is vodka with w it's very subtle difference, I'm probably not an unseating it in a way that makes that that difference apparent to native speakers, but they do
very similar critically. The western ears and proponents of the polish origins of vodka say that the word
vodka with a double you spoke of the w, instead of a v, appeared in print before vodka with a v, and thus it must be published in origin. There are some additional elements in this whole Russia, verses, Poland, debates on where vodka came from a polish drink called garage. Yulka has existed since the eleventh century, and there have been some assertions that badly original Prado vibe.
But the counter argument is that the historic drink of Georgia is a word general undefined alcohol, its spirit and not
anything that can be definitively linked to vodka. Ukraine also has a claim to vodkas birthplace, because that area
is the most greens in the region in the fifteenth century, so it would make sense that
based alcohol originated there and there is even the possibility truly that vodka actually first entered the region from somewhere else and that locals than figured out how to make their own-
no that vodka, as we know it, originated somewhere in Eastern Europe, but whether that's in modern Ukraine, Russia, Poland or Belarus, we don't really know the whole region is in hospitable to grapes as a crop. So inventive folks came up with new ways to make alcohol. The prevailing theory is that we have monks
for it is true with a number of other alcohols. They needed a spirit to use as a sedative and disinfectant and the communities where they worked, and they turned two weeks to get it. Yes, that's why it it kind of has those origins as a medicinal. In the fourteen hundreds vodka production became more refined and it also branched out to use other greens early vodkas where
likely quite sharp having a very unpleasant flavour. They weren't doing all of that refining in and filtering that we would do today. So flavouring started to be added in order to help make it more palatable. Fruit, honey and spices came into the picture, but in making vodka more tasty distillers help to shifted away from simply medicinal use to recreation
I'll because then it started to be yummy and that shift in identity to a beverage from a medicine lead to more experimentation and innovation. Vodka stayed largely in
Northern Europe for a while, but eventually it began to spread like other products we ve talked about. As shipping and industry grew, vodka was able to try
farther and farther away from its point of origin. But even so, there is still a lot of cool stuff going on in that sort of cradle where it first came about. In Poland, in particular, herbal vodkas were developed to treat all manner of ailments and concerns in the sixteenth century, and it was also in Poland that potatoes were first used in fermentation decree. Vodka and polish distillers. Continued to drive the exploration of flavour rings and tweaks to distilling methods well into the nineteenth century, but vodka is
and linked with Russia and russian cultural identity, and that's due in part to how quickly Ivan the third of Russia also known as even the great established vodka as a key revenue source in the country and fourteen seventy four. He strutted taxing vodka and set up a government based monopoly on the beverage that set the stage for his successor Ivan the fall
notice, I'm in the terrible to continue manipulating the flow of vodka to suit his own desires. Even the fourth went so far as to exclude most of his people from having access to vodka. He set up a new social class of loyal favorites and only they could have vodka in this move. He redistribute.
the land to them and also turned his back on the nobility that have existed before this restructure. He also used vodka to keep people loyal to him because cross the tsar and you would lose your drinking privileges. Other russian leaders similarly used vodka as a means to reward their favorite, send to intoxicate guess so that they would tell state secrets and, in the case of Peter the great force enemies to drink until they collapsed, but it was Catherine, the second Alcinous Catherine, the great who
The treaty changes that once again put vodka in the glass as in the cups of common people. Under her rule, the vodka monopoly ended and more distillers were licence to produce the spirit the costs of vodka were
also regulated to keep prices reasonable, but this often led to the dilution of the product on the part of the producers yeah, the costs we're gonna be
captain a pretty low amount they were like. Will work in a stretch our product them? This also lead to vodka quality being seen as a short
way to identify one status. So, even though they had taken away the that access through the hierarchy, it sort of built itself again in a new way. The wealthiest households began distilling their own vodkas with an array of expensive flavouring and spices, and this was to maintain their distance from peasants in the eyes of guests. Even the potency of the perfect vodka, with scientifically measured by the russian scientists, Dmitri Mendel, leave with you believe that myth that name sounds familiar. It's because, as published work, tentative system of elements as the foundation of the periodic table of the elements, but before that his dissertation, a discourse on the combination of alcohol and water is said to have established thirty. Eight percent alcohol.
All you as the best proportion for vodka. In fact, he was working with the erratic goals and our calls and much higher concentrations than that. None of it had anything to do with setting a gold standard for vodka is connections of odd get has been without
guys a lot over the years. It's easy to find assertions that he invented vodka. Obviously, he did not do that or that you served on the States Regulatory Commission and was tasked with implementing rules for the perfect vodka
They did serve on a government weights and measures agency, but he wasn't given any kind of mandates are codified vodka production just the same. His story used in various advertisements and spread throughout the internet has added to this perception that Russia is the epicenter of all things
vodka, yet yeah the trick there is the at least. I could not find in english translation of that dissertation that he wrote. So it's very easy for people to claim what is in it,
Oh did really really does spread like wildfire. I'd read that dissertation, though I would do in the eighteen sixties, pewter a Smirnoff founded a vodka company in Moscow, which became the favoured source of the spirit for the country's Royals
and it is now one of the most common brands in the world, and it continues that link between Russia and vodka in the minds of consumers everywhere under the Bolsheviks in the nineteen teens, alcohol was outlawed when the Soviet Union was
published and nineteen twenty two mild alcoholic drinks are once again allowed to be sold and nineteen twenty five vodka was again legalised at normal proof when Joseph style,
gain power in the nineteen thirty he had state run distilleries increase production to generate revenue, even though he knew there was a real problem with alcoholism in the country. Yeah we're gonna talk about that again in just a little while, but though some temperance effort started after stolen died, drinking remained upon.
plumb, and it wasn't until the nineteen eighties under Gorbachev, that temperance efforts got a real boost and the government made a concerted effort to get the entire country on board, and while the programmes that were initiated during this time did curtail drinking to some degree and improve overall health statistics of the population, eventually public sentiment turned against it. Next stop we're going to talk about how vodka became one of the most popular liquors in the United States, but first we will have a quick sponsor break party. I cleared
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surprise, the? U S is the world's second greatest consumer of vodka after Russia. That may or may not surprise you. I found it a little surprising. Vodka didn't really get a serious place in drinking stateside, though, until after prohibition. Prior to that there was just a smattering of mediocre vodka options available and it really didn't.
John, in any sort of significant way and the nineteen thirty the russian emigrant named Rudolf. Could it who had purchased the rights to use the smeared off name started, selling better vodka and the United States than had been available previously has kinetic
distillery struggled until the end of the decade when it was purchased. On behalf of Cubans liquor company by John G Martin Cubans was absorbed by a larger company, but Martin had wisely made sure that he retained the rights to the Smirnoff name. Yet he had been an executive with humans and he had had written that in smartly, where he
rights for distribution, but Martin didn't figure out a way to capitalize on his rights to the Smirnoff name until one thousand nine hundred and forty one when he and his friend and tavern owner came up with a combination of ginger beer and vodka with lemon or lime juice in a copper mug
this has its own mythology around its wear. It
and in a way which is where his friends tavern was versus. It happened in New York and it only took off in a way and that one of them had too much ginger beer and one of them had too much vodka,
It was almost a recent cup situation and we don't
No, but he died. He is completely recognised. He and his friend as originating the Moscow Mule and once that drink was born, it finally made drinkers in the United States embrace vodka at least
until World WAR too. After the war for awhile vodka became sort of Spirit non Grata in the. U S is the cold war began and all things associated with the Soviet Union were viewed through that lends it didn't go away completely and Martin was still concocting other cocktails with vodka, but it really it kind of had a big spike in in popularity and then a big drop off
but gives reputation perked up once Sean Connery ordered a vodka martini and doctor no in nineteen sixty two, but then it really got a boost. When President Richard Nixon after visiting the Soviet Union approved business between Pepsi COLA and the USSR in Exchange for assistance and setting up a Pepsi factory in the Soviet Union, the? U S, business was Paden stylish, nigh a vodka which made the soda giant the stolen distributor in the U S. With the backing of a massive cola, brand vodka became the most popular spirit in the: U S and nineteen. Seventy five vodka,
in one of the most popular liquors and the United States and smeared off as the most popular brand. You have you look like a year to year top ten spirits in the? U S voice
cause almost always in the top two, and usually it is smirnoff it. It shifts a little bit, but I think whisky kind of stays at the top. There has for the last several years anyway, but that's all fun and games, but we have to acknowledge that vodka has a pretty dark side to its history as well. There have certainly been plenty of issues that stemmed from over indulgence in and addiction
you alcohol. In the world's ongoing story. For example, in the late nineteenth century, Russia was in the middle of a real crisis of alcoholism. It was so bad that it through
the labour pool and cause outcry from activist groups and churches and medical professionals.
Eventually Tsar Alexander. The third couldn't ignore the problem any longer and limited the production of vodka put regulations in place to mandate, quality and formed a temperance society that touted that
of drinking in moderation, despite the fact that the name of the society, which was the guardianship of public sobriety, might suggest that it would be against the drink
altogether three clear, though Alexander the third himself, while they drinker yeah, he was definitely responding to outside pressures. He was not like hey, we should cut back on drinking in the country because he loved to drink. The state also started a programme to boost Non alcoholic, entertain,
as a means to curtail drinking free, theater and concerts, as well as adult education offerings and other leisure incentives were offered. But none of this really worked at all. Regulations did not stop illicit liquor. Sales in the production of inferior product in this problem with alcohol is a persistent into the Russo, jeopardize war and actually cost Russia battles, backing them into a corner and putting them
really weak position for brokering a treaty. Additionally, the tsars decision to ban alcohol in an effort to help the troop stay on task for that conflict meant that a huge source of tax revenue was lost in the process.
And all of that was before the twentieth century efforts to sober up the country that we mentioned earlier in twenty fourteen, a study titled alcohol and mortality was conducted at the University of Toronto and Peter some really grim data. The authors of the paper urine RAM and Kevin De Shield outline the fact that more than two hundred different diseases are linked to alcohol, but their research focuses on cancer, liver cirrhosis, an injury and their research indicated that in twenty ten four point, one percent of all deaths globally.
Those diseases were attributable to alcohol consumption that same year, alcohol consumption resulted in an average percentage of years lost of four point three percent, as numbers increased as compared to similar data from ninety. Ninety,
this is not in your outlined, but I was reading a thing recently. That was a hypothesis that one of the reasons that breast cancer rates are lower in beauty is because of Utah's more stringent alcohol laws. I cannot speak too that cause. I have not read gal. I mean it's one of those things right. We definitely have to kind of acknowledged that consuming alcohol comes with inherent danger. There was a recent study. I didn't put it in my notes either. So I am quoting it kind of out of the air the basically I think it was from twenty sixteen or twenty seven
seen that was like really the safest way to consume alcohol is do not consume alcohol, because, even though there are in its outlined in the ram paper, there are some specific health issues that alcohol in moderation can actually help
for the most part like the dangers are far worse than any of moves. So just things to consider we're not telling people to go out drink a ton of vodka, that's all be grown
We and we don't want to minimize, also or downplay the issue of over indulgence or addiction, but that would be a really downer place to end this episode. So instead I thought it might be fun to close with a few anecdotes and facts about vodka that are just so
fascinating on their own. We mentioned earlier that vodka was probably originally concocted for medicinal use, but there is still plenty of sort of old wives remedies that make use of it. Alcohol infused with Saint John Work and Sage is believed to have had curative powers as a liniment broadcast served with black pepper is an old russian cold remedy and vodka fumes from infused fabrics are believed by some to cure everything from muscle aches to ear problems. This also used as a stringent cleansers to clean out pours and as a disinfectant for wounds and can be used for cleaning surfaces as well as humans. As a polish for mirrors, chrome, tile and the like.
yeah. It definitely will kill all your stuff. My favorite use for vodka, which I didn't put in here, but it is here, is the trick I give to you that I learned from working in costume shops forever. You get cheap, cheap vodka and you put it in a spritz are bought all if you can't make it to a dry cleaner. That will freshen up your clothes, kill any bacteria that are causing odor and hope you get through to your next thing. Yet. This is why I have in my bathroom, under the sink there to spray bottles both clearly marked, so I dont can use them
contains peroxide. The other contains vodka yeah. I at one point I was helping out as well
a really low level mouse in a costume shop that was serving a ballet company and their their costume director was always walking around with a bottle of vodka and spitting things to make sure that they did not smell
especially if you were doing like matinee performance in an evening, and there was no way to really do serious cleaning between the two. In terms of time, especially when you're trying to prep things for a full court, a little vodka spirits will help put things up and make it not smell bad,
There is also another little household hint, which is that adding vodka and sugar to water, at the base of Christmas trees or to vases of flowers is thought to prolong the life of the plants. I have never tried that one me neither
don't make here, don't make your Christmas tree water, accidently, flammable holes in eighty six thieves, the Smirnoff distillery added Anas, an egg whites to combine the vodka to make it more delicious. I would like to disagree threerd off about whether that would be more delicious,
is it the licorice, that's the way Irish or the egg waiting to nautical Vienna licorice. I love licorice, so this sounds delay.
You can have all mind if you ve, never
a black egg white foam in an alcoholic drink and that may sound weird to you. I courage you if you are of legal drinking age, to try it cuz, it's quite interesting. There's a there's! Some good tiki drinks the future as well
This is another one that I love in twenty eleven, the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, which was originally built in one thousand. Seven hundred and seventy six went through a major, spruce up and renovation and actually started far before two thousand and eleven, but that's when it finished after it had been neglected for several decades. But when it came to the finishing touches performed by guilders, they turned to a medieval recipe. It turns out to make perfect
guilt egg. Whites have to be first kept in a warm room for forty days and then,
vague whites are mixed with a clay and then the magic ingredient. Vodka is added to that mixture, which is then used to apply gold leaf and according to Mikhail sooner of who works for the company that handled this refurbishment project quote. This method keeps gold from being over used and helps retain its lustre for fifty to seventy years. So in essence, the same kind of thing that makes me
Brad. Look. Shiny and Delicious will also make your gold gleam and leave in the lights due to an uptake in specific diet. There are now vodkas marketed that fit within various eating
restrictions, so any domestically made non flavoured grain or potato based vodka. In the. U S is considered kosher. Some brands made outside the Eu S choose to seek kosher certification from the Orthodox Union, including storage, NEA and Crystal her
and some biogas include messaging on a label about their gluten free status. Yeah, you have dietary restrictions. There is probably a company out there making vodka that wants to make sure you know you can drink whatever. It is,
making and because I love of talking about art, we're gonna end with innovative norwegian artists, the Bjorn Sound and when sound was visiting Antarctica and was inspired to paint using the water colours that he had brought with him. He ran into a little bit of a problem which is it has paid were freezing before he could get anything done in his rushing guide suggested vodka and he found success when he makes that with his pigments and he called the resulting technique. Vodka color, I love a little innovation. I feel it. Vodka is sort of one of those universal solvent substances because it does get you still medicinal really still for cleaning and a stringent needs, and also in art, and also to make things beautiful in gilt, edged with gold womb fabulous again, don't over indulge. Please be careful with your rocket consumption or
don't drink it all. If that is the choice that you would rather make totally fine with whatever works for you and is best for your health, I feel a little like Steve Brule, but I'm going to back up off of that.
have a postcard this week, but here's the problem.
When I read it, but I don't know who its round as it appears, they did not sign it. I think they just forgot, because it's a lovely little
out, but if you are the birth of this and this to us, thank you. I'm sorry. We can say your name on the air because I dont see it anywhere on the card
although they did put a little additional thing. This is thank you for being awesome up in the corner, but not their name, but they wrote hey Ladys. I visited San Francisco in December. I just had to go to the Trolley Car Museum, which Tracy talked about in her San Francisco trolley Car episode that she wrote. I talked about it as well, but she did the research on they won. My boyfriend was: has
to go, but he literally didn't stop talking about it afterwards. We also visited. Quite
our and learned about Lily. So I thought I chair and the
the postcard is a picture of Lily Hitchcock quite and the caption. On the back of a postcard says: seven year old, Lily, Hitchcock Life was saved by volunteers,
Knickerbocker engine, five ever after Lily, was their patron and honorary member of the company lilies bequest for San Francisco beautification built quite tower so that the coup little combo of visiting place you ve, talked about on the show em giving us a little many education vetoes cards. So thank you. Thank you. Thank you to whatever wonderful person scent is this. If you like to write to us, you can do so at history, podcast, a house of works dot com. You can also find us everywhere on social media has missed in history, and you can go to MR history dot com to see all of the episodes of the show that have ever existed, including show notes on any other ones. Tracy and I have put down.
If you would like a subscriber the show that sounds like a grand idea to me. You can do that through the eye radio, APP, the apple podcast player or wherever you get your backing for more on this and thousands of other topics. Visit Housetop works, dot, com
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